Sky Full of Bacon

Donatella’s Mediterranean Bistro: Southern Italian Efficiency, Northern Italian Charm

Donatella Majore had La Cucina di Donatella in Rogers Park for much of the early 2000s, and most of the reviews of her new place suggest that she has followers wowed by her Italian charm who are happy to have her back in new digs in Evanston. The Rogers Parker who invited me to try the place had a more jaundiced take: “It’s BYOB and cheap for what you get, which makes up for the fact that sometimes you can hear her reaming the staff in back. I don’t think anyone works here too long.”

That gibes with my memory of some of the posts on LTHForum about her past place. And within the first three minutes of our arrival, she’s ordered him to rearrange how his bicycle is parked, we’ve had a battle of wills over whether we’re going to be squeezed into a tiny two-top in a largely empty restaurant (we win, but we’re denied the best choice of the available four-tops), and practically the instant we sit down, she’s on us to order already, dammit. (Oh, and she rearranged my paper menu to make sure it didn’t get wet from my water glass. Twice. Once while it was in my hand.)

We engage in passive resistance, ordering an appetizer while we consider our entrees despite her clear preference that we order everything now. The place does fill up on a Thursday night, though it’s never completely full (and the table we were denied is empty most of the evening), and as it does, the service goes from harriedly pushy to long delays between courses, negating whatever benefit might have come from pressing us to order quickly. But take a bemused approach to the service and you’ll understand the charms of this place, an open-air Mediterranean cafe on a strip full of packed, utterly boring suburban restaurants (Prairie Moon, Tommy Nevin’s Pub, some sushi place that seems to have been assembled from a Hipster Sushi Restaurant In a Box kit). Modest pricing, BYO, fresh air and a general feeling of realness make for a pleasantly unpretentious night in the burbs… for what my friend can’t help noticing is a decidely older, upscale North Shore crowd.

“Evanston is 20% black and 10% Latino, and I’ve seen one black person here all night,” he observes.

“They must all be at Tommy Nevin’s drinking Guinness,” I say.

So how was the food? It was fine, at this price. A grilled seafood salad at, I think, $11 delivered a heaping plate of a bunch of different things (baby octopus, calamari, scallops, shrimp), all cooked correctly with a hint of char, simple and exactly what you want. My friend had mahi mahi (salt crusted, they said, but filleted in the kitchen), which was also simple and exactly what it should be, except maybe for more exciting sides than a lump of spinach and a lump of green beans. I had linguine with lobster, with lots of properly cooked lobster but slightly boring pasta and rather oily sauce. My orange ricotta cake was minimalist and nicely light; his “vulcan” (a version of the chocolate gooey center cake) was rich and decadent. It’s kind of 1992 Italian food, but that’s fine in a neighborhood place. This is not a crowd desperately seeking the next new thing.

The only real downside, once you take the “charm” in stride, is the plastic cafe chairs, which would be fine for coffee and a croissant, but which I was ready to be out of long before our check for dinner came. If Donatella had said up front “Trust me, you’re going to wish you’d ordered quickly once you’ve sat in these chairs a while,” we might have been more willing to follow her orders.

Donatella’s Mediterranean Bistro
1512 Sherman Ave.
(847) 328-7720

If you like this post and would like to receive updates from this blog, please subscribe our feed. Subscribe via RSS

Comments are closed.